“What?” the woman asked as she reached for the knife in her side. When she touched it, she pulled her fingers away as if she’d been burned.
I couldn’t say anything. If I opened my mouth, I knew I’d vomit, which would be an inexcusable mistake. Doing so would leave too much evidence. Father Sebastian had trained me better than that.
My training. I needed to remember my training. The target was still alive. I had to finish the job. Slowly, I breathed through my nose and forced myself to stop shaking.
As the woman looked back up at me with wide eyes, I took a step forward and put my left hand onto her shoulder. Then, before she could speak, I grabbed the knife in her side and ripped it out.
She gasped in pain, but I didn’t let myself stop. Instead, I gripped her shoulder tighter and thrust the knife into her stomach.
“No!” she cried as she tried to push my hand away. “What are you? What have they done to my—”
I didn’t let her finish. It was like looking into my own eyes as I stared into hers and pulled the knife out. Then, before I could hesitate, I jammed it into her throat. Blood gushed from the wound and down my hand. Despite my best effort, my body began to tremble as I yanked the knife free and she crumpled to the floor.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t look away from the woman’s eyes as she stared up at me from the ground and clutched the wound in her neck. Her struggle was no use, though. I’d done what I’d come to do. Within seconds, her movement stopped. Then, finally, the light faded from her eyes. Only then could I look away.
I closed my eyes and clenched my fists as hard as I could. As I did, I tried to steady my breathing. I knew I was going to vomit and burst into tears, but it needed to wait. First, I had to finish things. Once I made it back to Saint Helens, I could do and feel whatever I needed to. Until then, I couldn’t let myself think. The hard part was done. All that was left was to clean up.
Slowly, I stopped shaking and the hurricane of emotions slowed to a gentle roar. I knew it would all come back at full force later but, for the time being, I was grateful.
I didn’t waste any time. I stepped around the woman’s body and stopped in front of her coffee table. On top of it was a box of tissues, a half empty glass of red wine, and a pile of textbooks – nothing of value to the burglar I wanted the police to blame the woman’s death on. I grabbed the bottom of the coffee table and flipped it over, dumping everything onto the floor. The wine immediately stained the carpet red and the books scattered all over. It was a mess, but I was just getting started.
I tore the woman’s apartment apart as I looked for anything of value. It was surprising how little she really had. In her bedroom was some jewelry, but that was it. Even so, it didn’t matter; what did was that the place was ransacked.
Once I was finished, I moved past the woman’s body without looking at it and peered through her peephole. As I did, I couldn’t help but feel like she was still staring at me from the floor. The thought sent a shiver down my spine and, as soon as I was sure no one was in the hallway, I opened the door and left her behind.
I made my way through the hall as quickly as I could, but I still felt like someone was watching my every move. I imagined people behind each door I passed, watching me through their peepholes. They knew what I did – I was sure of it. In fact, I had the sinking feeling someone had already called the police.
I stepped into the stairwell and moved down the stairs as quickly as I could. Dread settled in my stomach and worked its way up my throat with each step. I knew exactly what I would find when I made it to the bottom. The police would be there waiting out in the parking lot.
I took a deep breath and fought the urge to curl up into the fetal position. I wanted to move slowly – cautiously – but I refused to let myself. If I stopped moving, I wouldn’t be able to start again. Instead, when I made it to the bottom of the stairs, I pushed my way through the door and stepped out into the parking lot ready to fight.
It was empty. Of course it was. I let out a relieved breath. I was being paranoid. My emotions were running wild. I just needed to stay focused.
As I walked through the parking lot and made it to the sidewalk, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching me. I glanced up at the apartment complex’s windows as I began to move down the sidewalk, but I couldn’t see anyone.
The feeling didn’t go away, even after the apartment complex was out of sight. If anything, it just got stronger. I wanted to turn around and look behind me, but I didn’t dare. The last thing I needed was to draw attention to myself. Instead, I just listened for footsteps or any indication that someone was nearby. All I could hear was the sound of crickets. It was late enough that no one else was out.
I only needed to make it two blocks to where I’d stashed my bike beside a Chinese restaurant. Even if someone was following me, I just had to keep it together until then. Once I was on my bike, there was no way anyone could follow me without giving themselves away.
By the time I made it to the restaurant, my hair was standing on end. Someone was there; I was sure of it. I had to get away from them before they had a chance to do something. I couldn’t be tied anywhere close to the area. Father Sebastian had taught me enough to know that if I was, it would bring nothing but trouble.
My hands shook as I unlocked my bike chain. If someone was going to attack, I knew it would come any second. I didn’t give them time to prepare. Instead, I jumped on my bike and began peddling away as furiously as I possibly could.
As I flew down the street, there were no shouts, no running footsteps – no unusual sounds at all. I glanced back for a brief second. No one was there.
The feeling that I wasn’t alone didn’t go away, though, even when I was half way back to Saint Helens. The logical part of myself tried to say that I was just being paranoid. The streets were empty and there was no possible way someone could follow me in a car or on a bike without making enough noise for me to hear. I wanted to believe that. It was the only real explanation. No one else was there. Still, I peddled harder just in case.
I was covered in a cold sweat by the time I made it back to Saint Helens. As I chained my bike up in the back, I felt like someone was practically watching over my shoulder. The thought made me shudder, but I told myself it was just exhaustion. If I could sleep, I knew I’d feel better in the morning. Once I let Father Vincent know I was back, that’s exactly what I planned to do.
I moved through the yard as silently as I could and entered Saint Helens through the side door to the sanctuary. As I made my way through the sanctuary, I glanced up at the crucifix behind the pulpit. For some reason, it made me think about the woman’s eyes. I couldn’t help but feel as if I’d lost something – as if I’d crossed some kind of line and could never go back.
I turned away as tears began to well up and quickly walked to the door that led out into the hallway. When I stepped through it, I immediately noticed the light that streamed from beneath Father Vincent’s closed office door. He was clearly still awake, probably waiting for me to get back.
I moved toward the light and knocked on Father Vincent’s door without giving myself time to hesitate.
“Come in,” his muffled voice answered from the other side.
I swung his door open and stepped inside. I never liked being in his office, and that night was no different. For some reason, it always seemed cold and indifferent to me, but I didn’t know why. Bookshelves lined the walls, which should have helped make it feel homey. Instead they just felt sterile, like something on display that wasn’t meant to be touched.
As I closed the door behind me, Father Vincent stared expectantly from the overstuffed chair behind his large, wooden desk. “Is it done?” he asked.
I nodded and once more swallowed all of the emotions that tried to well up within me.
He smiled, but its warmth didn’t reach his eyes. Then, slowly, he stood up and stepped around his desk toward me. His dark hair, I noticed, was still carefully combed and in place even at such a late hour. His black pastoral shirt and black pants, too, were impeccable. When I thought about how I probably looked, exhausted and drained, I wondered how he did it.
“You’ve done well, Drake,” he said as he put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m proud of you.”
I looked down and the ground and closed my eyes. “Thanks.”
“What is it? Did something happen?”
I slowly opened my eyes and looked up at him. “I – no.”
His brow furrowed as he stared at me. “Drake,” he said with concern in his voice as his grip tightened on my shoulder, “is there something I need to know about?”
Tears ambushed me and a few rolled down my cheeks. I struggled to fight them back for a moment and took a deep breath. “I just – she’s dead. I – I killed her.”
Father Vincent nodded. “Yes. You did it for God.”
“Are you sure it’s what God wanted?”
His stare shifted from concerned to frustrated. “Yes, Drake, I’m sure. You should know better than to question me or to question God.”
I looked away again as shame burned my cheeks. “I’m sorry.”
He let go of my shoulder and gently ruffled my messy, black hair. “I think you’re just tired. Go get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
I nodded, too choked up to even speak, and turned to leave.
“Drake,” he said as I stepped toward the door. “Don’t forget, I’m proud of you. It’s clear your training is paying off. If the Lord is willing, we’ll have more work for you to do soon.”
I shuddered at that thought as my stomach suddenly tried to crawl up my throat. If I opened my mouth to speak or turned around to look at him, I knew I would lose it. Instead, I just nodded once more and opened the door to step back into the hallway.
When I closed his door behind me, I was immediately aware once more of someone else’s presence. For a moment, I wondered if Father Sebastian or one of the Sisters were nearby, but the hallway was empty.
I grit my teeth and blew out a short, frustrated breath. If a good night’s sleep didn’t help me get myself under control, I was going to go insane very, very quickly.
I moved down the short hallway and pushed the door to the boys’ quarters open. As I walked to my room at the end of the hallway, a soft creak came from the wood floor behind me. I assumed it was my imagination playing another cruel trick, but I turned to look back, anyway. To my surprise, someone was actually there.
I put my fists up without thinking as I studied the figure. It was a broad, muscular man with short, red hair. I was so tired that I almost didn’t recognize him but, as soon as I did, I lowered my fists. Father Sebastian had woken up to see me. As I looked at his tired, drawn face, I realized that wasn’t quite right. I doubted he’d slept at all.
“I’m so sorry,” he said as he slowly stepped toward me.
I nodded. The desire to cry once more reared its head, but I did my best to stay strong in front of him.
As he got closer to me, I smelled wine on his breath. Father Sebastian rarely drank more than at Communion, so it surprised me. Even so, I was too tired to think much of it.
“I told Vincent you weren’t ready. It’s too much, isn’t it?”
I shook my head, but refused to look at him. “I’ll be OK.”
Father Sebastian sighed and pulled me into a hug. “You will be, I promise. It hurts right now, I know. Believe me, I know.”
I slowly nodded as my composure crumbled away. A second later, I burst into tears.
“It’s OK,” he continued as he patted me on the back. “It doesn’t seem like it right now, but it will be.”
I nodded again and did my best to force the tears to stop. As I did, Father Sebastian let me go and took a step back so that he could look me in the eyes. “Listen to me, Drake. I’m not going to lie to you. What you did tonight is going to haunt you forever. It will. There’s no getting around that.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. I wanted to avert my gaze, but I couldn’t. I didn’t even have the strength left for that.
“Even so,” he said, “it will get better. I promise. I’ve been where you are. It just takes time.”
“Thank you,” I whispered. I hoped he was right. From the depths of my soul, I hoped he was telling the truth.
He stared at me in silence for another moment and then closed his eyes. “Try and get some sleep. It’s going to be difficult, but you need it.”
I nodded once more and then turned toward my door. I wanted to talk to Father Sebastian more about what had happened, but it would have to wait. He was right. I needed to try and sleep before I did anything else.
I didn’t bother to turn my light on as I stepped into my bedroom and closed the door behind me. Instead, I just took my coat off and got into bed. Even changing out of my clothes was too much effort.
I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t alone as I pulled the covers over myself. When my head hit the pillow, I finally understood why. A wicked smile and a pair of gray eyes suddenly materialized in the darkness. My blood ran cold. It was the woman. She was back.
Stay up to date by subscribing to the newsletter!
Receive my Thriller Skills Guide as well as information on giveaways, updates, access to the interactive game, and more!